Archive: games

Month Links: March 2013

Right, then, it”s a quarter of the way into the year. Time to take stock, maybe, to look around and see what you”ve achieved so far in 2013.

That”d be pretty nice. We”ve been heads down on a bunch of intense, fast-turnaround projects that the recent past is a bit hazy and thinking is a little painful. Still, fun. Here are some things that have filled our eyes and minds in between.

- Skip to about 1″24″ on the above video if you want to get to the particularly interesting bit. When Nintendo launched the Wii U, there were some queries as to what they had in mind for the NFC capabilities on the U-controller. Now, we are reminded that Nintendo started as – and will essentially always be – . The integration of the NFC-enabled Pokémon figures is a natural extension of both in-game and out-of-game behaviours: collecting, training and upgrading your characters. At £1.50 a pop, Nintendo should probably have some time left before it becomes just a publisher.

It”s nice to see Nintendo designing with existing behaviours in mind, even if they”re applied in different ways, moving the technology to its role as an enabler rather than The Thing itself.

- Absolute Radio are taking the commercial road towards Perceptive Media to create personalised adverts based on user data, delivered using object-based programming of music and buffers.

- James saw Mark of Mark Boulton Design talk around their task of redesigning the CERN website at Refresh-LX last year. A few weeks ago the the new CERN site went live and Mark wrote an interesting blog post about the strategy for reshaping such a huge project.

- Bruce Sterling took the opportunity at his SXSW closing keynote to denounce much of the start-up scenes” exhortations of . A bold, and welcome, statement reminding all that not everything that can be disrupted by the market should be.

- Good post by Alexandra Lange on the always-reliable Domus looking at the content strategy and the visual architecture of current social sites/mobile apps. The discussion around shifting attention behaviours and trends towards users “not always looking for the whole experience, but just a taste” is very important. Now Flipboard are making the DIY magazine explicit with user “curated” magazines.

- BERG”s long post about their Connbox project seeking to solve video calling for Google Creative Lab is a masterpiece in showing your working. Starting with the broad brief, through history, low tech prototypes, collaborations, in-house behaviour testing, and video-as-design. It”s always good to see the design processes behind projects – especially when they”re this open.

- From the good of Google to the bad: we”re all a tiny bit pissed off with their planned killing of Reader. Luckily, Paul Bradshaw from OJB set up an open Google Doc of best alternatives. There are 54 so far, so the choice is still a bit dizzying.

- In the future, every single thing you do will be mapped as an input and you won”t know how to cook a carrot. Thanks, Microsoft.

- Timo”s brilliant essay on the current debate/headless march towards No UI is as fascinating as it is well argued. It takes in everything from the industrial architecture of the cloud, to the materials that can fail and takes task with open misunderstandings of what “No UI” is (eg Nest). People will always trip themselves up with absolutism, but ultimately Timo argues of “understandability” in products and appropriate UI as clear and necessary tools.

Frank Chimero provides a good follow-up piece, The Cloud Is Heavy and Design Isn”t Invisible, that looks at the negative impact of popular myths in obscuring the truth.

- Recent projects have seen us using a more explicit “designing for behaviours” approach: to start using ambient behaviour as a material, rather than as a “input”. As well as Timo”s essay, it has also led us to revisit an excellent Tom Armitage post from a couple of years ago about Technology As A Material, which is always worth reminding yourself of.

- Matt Locke writes about the growing trend of agencies becoming their own publishers/product creators – not necessarily bifurcating their services, or doing part-time projects. Of course, this brings with it a wealth of freedom but also difficulties, as we know from our experiences with and Chromaroma.

Nick Cave mood-wheel

- The Nick Cave app for Spotify is an excellent thing. Part curated, part powered by metadata. It points towards the happy medium where data and personal insights can actually make useful, enjoyable things together. A furrow we”ve been attempting to plough in various projects.


- Dark Igloo make me want to contact them.

- Going to the edge of the Earth and making do without your usual tools, and from noma”s perspective.

- Strelka post about the lifespan of technology, and the items considered “household essentials” in the UK by the Office of National Statistics – which now include eBooks.

- Enjoying the Pitchfork Advance album previews. Some sort of digital version of listening to a new LP with the liner notes.

- Gyford has been collecting the public announcements as companies shutter after being aqui-hired.

- The Guardian have made a snazzy interactive panorama of London from the top of the Shard, complete with field recordings and stories.

- What we”ve been listening to: , & .

Month Links: February 2013

Hello, March – it”s really good to see you. It”s been a while. It feels like I hardly got to know February, before it spirited away for another year.

Still, in those brief twenty-eight days, we kicked off three new pieces of work as well as continued work on a good half-dozen live projects. Good, busy days with some exciting things on the go. In the quieter moments, here”s a bunch of things we found interesting and provided happy diversions.

Olafur Eliasson, Model For A Timeless Garden.

- The Light Show at Hayward Gallery is a marvel, and really worth sticking your head in. Even if just for the Eliasson piece above.

- One of the best things so far this year is one of the smallest and simplest: Jargone. Jargone is a bookmarklet that scans websites for jargon language and suggests common, day-to-day alternatives. It”s made by Roo Reynolds and is an excellent by-product of the dedication to simple, clear, quality work being done within Government Digital Service.

- Continuing the “doing simple well” thread, James has gone back to Twitter”s post from last summer about their process in overhauling their mobile site. It”s easy for us to advocate mobile first practices, but how do you go about that when you have half a billion users and thousands of devices to serve across the world?

- We”ve been enjoying the open epistolography of Hubbub”s Recess! project – a published discourse around games between Kars, Alper and Niels.

Asshole Mario 3, Stage 1.

- Die Gute Fabrik”s Doug did a “best games of 2012″ end of year post. Normally you”d expect a top ten of indie, AAA and folk games, but Doug”s list is a brilliantly of 2012 – specific moments of play that stuck out. From a trampoline-controlled mod of Proteus to competitive yoga and the Hokra “world championships”. All incredibly exciting and envy-creating.

- Our thoughts have started about 2013: what it is, what it will look like, who we”d like to speak, things we”d like to hear more about. It”s an exciting bit of the project, the first flushes of romance before the realisation that oh god 400-odd people are expecting a good time. As ever, we”ll be looking for interesting ideas and cold hard cash for sponsorship – so get in touch if you have either of those things.

- A few times I”ve caught James making some odd movements in the corner of my eye; he has been playing with the Responsive Typography demo by Marko Dugonjić. It”s an interesting project, and feels like it touches the ideas about Perceptive Media, not just a straight up “responsive” approach.

- In other face-tracking news, the brilliant Henry Cooke has created Faces In The Cloud – a thing mixing computer vision and humans” tendencies to pareidolia.

Sruli Recht A/W 13, Runway Presentation.

It”s been an excellent month for apocalypse fans, the best since December. I read a very cold, but beautiful, collection of graphic short stories recently published by Fantagraphics, Beta Testing The Apocalypse. It”s part Ballard, part design fiction, part straight up comics. Never seen architecture used so well as a character in comics.

- Channel 4 have put out plenty of paranoid drama lately, in the form of Utopia (eugenicists, preppers & conspiracy theorists) and Black Mirror“s pop-apocalypse of glowing rectangles.

- Utopia led me to this excellent article in the NYT about TEOTWAWKI (“the end of the world as we know it”) and the prepper scene in New York. Particularly interesting in the post-Sandy context.

- Black Mirror (for all of its many, many, many failings) has provoked a few discussions in the studio. One of particular interest is its approach to interaction design, which seems at times insightful (who doesn”t want the curved digital drawing board?) and sloppy (the mixed metaphors of tactile and gestural interactions clearly come from a Surface Tablet user).

- Black Mirror is interesting in terms of how non-designers are designing interactions that are eventually adopted. That has seen us revisiting the excellent post by Einar about wifi in Sherlock, an interesting read about how Minority Report has locked people into bad IxD, obligatory Dan Hill post about world building, as well as this wonderful blog looking at HUDS and GUIs in film/games. All of which is very helpful for unnamed project #2.


To advance the cause of the world, Al Gore wants you spam climate change deniers.

- Things that have been in our ears: , , .

- A great reason to get a Little Printer from BERG.

- A blogging platform designed for transience.

- Richard took the black, in his “finest” Sean Bean accent.

- An archive for a classic of Modernist design, Vignelli”s NYC TA Standards Manual.

- A “mood data sculpture” that waters (or not) a Rose of Jericho based on scraped feelings.

- Machine manuals out emo tumblr users.

- A nice bit of IoT that processes a lot of complex data to let you know the best route to work.

- Russell”s back in café”s, revisiting some of his greatest hits.

Month Links: January 2013

A post about things we”ve found interesting in January, 2013.

January”s a funny old month. One of the oldest months, I think. Certainly the longest. It”s been a mixture of waking up from a winter break, and hurtling into new projects. There”s a handful of new things on the go, which we”re pretty stoked to share when we can, and a few ongoing projects we”re shortly to finish.

In the meantime, have a look at the things we”ve been sharing in Dark Social.

The Cloud, by STML

- The first thing we published this year was Orchestrated Text, a blanket-swaddled project that Richard munged together over Christmas and James finessed when we were all back in the studio. It”s done pretty well – thanks Wired – and helped broaden our thinking about what text on the web can mean, beyond “just words”. Should be more on that soon enough.

- Tying nicely into Orchestrated Text, Richard has been following the ‘Alan Rusbridger Plays Chopin’ story for a while. The publicity run for the book this month, especially Know The Score (the musical e-book accompaniment) has been particularly enjoyable.

- The odd space between digital and physical is never more felt than when people replicate physical things in digital – such as notepads, watercolour painting or leatherette folders. We”ve had a nice play with Paper and been pleasantly surprised by how it feels – very digital, but with a reassuring sense of friction. It won”t replace our pads and papers, but it’s a damn nice attempt to.

- Mark Fell“s article in The Wire reminded us all of the values of working within limitations, and pushing at the edges of what can be done: “we can redefine technology, not as a tool subservient to creativity or an obstacle to it, but as part of a wider context within which creative activity happens.

- Matt Ward wrote a moving and insightful blog post about what digital spaces outside of capitalism might be like. It feels a bit like a beat”s companion piece to Russell”s post about truthiness and The Majority of Images. In a way.

- Revisited “Why Lost Is Genuinely New Media“, Dan Hill“s excellent post from 2006 about leaving threads open for parallel narrative and speculation. “This isn”t so much product placement as identifier placement.

- Our James has continued to smarten up and iterate the new Mudlark aesthetics, and has been taken with a handful of projects looking to solve or evolve design problems. Of the most mainstream and publicly visible is the ITV rebrand. There”s still quite a lot of discussion about whether it”s any good, but James is firmly in the Pro camp. He feels it really comes to life when animated over the idents with the ‘colour-picking’ technique.

- We packed him off to NAConf last week, so expect a blog post about that soon. When he bought his ticket, he noticed they were using tito – which provided a very simple experience. As a company who has PayPal grief every year with , we”re hoping this turns out to be a healthy challenge to them.

- Work continues on Chromaroma: putting wires back where they should go, kicking the data scraper and looking for new ways to develop it, inside or out of London. A couple of us have been using Moves for iOS. It is definitely an extension of thoughts we”ve had about taking Chromaroma “off the rails”, but lacks that competitive and social edge.

- Smart travelling moves into the next phase over in Boston with the introduction of using smartphones for ticket purchasing.

- Our pal Ben Bashford got his speak on at UX Brighton last year. It”s up on YouTube now. If you enjoyed his excellent blog post about Emotional Computing you should enjoy the mundane Robocop”s talk.

- Matt Edgar wrote an excellent post titled “Ad agencies are discovering products like Columbus discovered America“, which just about sums up his angle. Typically great.

- Brendan Dawes is someone who consistently turns out excellent and beautiful work. The RSC are the latest to benefit from this, with the rather lovely To Be Today, “a Shakespearean twist on the events of the day.”


How To Make A Cocktail.

- How To Basic
Genuinely the best and most informative channel on YouTube.

- Internet of Lamps
Good Night Lamp is a beautiful looking and simply realised IoT project. Its Kickstarter is closing soon, so go and wang as much as you can in their bank account.

All Other Parties Are STILL Trite And Dull.
If you”re going to GDC, go to this. You will thank yourself.

- Towards A Canon of “Hypertext Literature/Interactive Fiction/Digital Narrative”
Tom Armitage started drawing up a list of most “important” works in the messy taxonomy of interactive fiction.

Vinny Poo
Bless Russia”s laissez-faire approach to copyright and enjoy this very special interpretation of Winnie The Pooh. Thanks to Marie for putting it into our lives.

Great Reddit thread on “house rules” in games.

The Internet of.

“The family”s principal entertainment… was for everyone to recount their dreams.”
What it”s like to be cut off from human contact for 40-years.

The Internet of Ketchup Things

- Diddy Appreciates, by Shardy

- rrrrrrrroll

- What we”ve been listening to: , , the .

Designing Playful 2012

It”s been a couple of months since this year”s happened. Now that we”ve stopped worrying if there is enough tea*, we”ve had chance to catch-up on the  and start thinking about what we”ll do in 2013.

*there is definitely enough tea.

Playful pin badges.

It”s useful to think briefly about 2012, though. Learning from previous events, people”s feedback and our own thoughts, we had a few key aims for this year:

  1. Focus on Play.
  2. Excite People.
  3. Broaden Horizons.

Focusing On Play.

A lot of different elements have seeped into Playful over its life-span; most for good, but not all. We felt it was important to strip back to the original focal point – “play” – and not get too bogged down by other things.

Play is a broad concept and has a lot of affordances, allowing us to look at different behaviours, uses, contexts, meanings and approaches. It”s a tool for understanding relationships, how things work and navigating the world. It”s not saying “games”, but games are a key part of it, whether formal or informal.

That”s a hell of a lot to put over in six and a half hours, without getting distracted by other things.

“Planes, by Utku Can (@utku)

Exciting People & Doing It Yourself.

A major reason for our approach this year was seeing lots of people struggling, financially, to do what they were trying to do. The kind of thing that”s seen Glitch sadly close recently. We wanted people to still believe in doing what they”re doing, to be re-excited, refreshed; to go back out with a renewed sense of vigour and some new ideas.

To that end, we wanted to bring the DIY spirit to the fore; sacking off The Man and getting things done on your own steam.

We invited people to talk about , small publishing, digital craft, speculative design, making products outside of the system, and a healthy dose of ScandiCommunism – things that point towards different ways of doing it yourself.

Bikini Kill, Rebel Girl

Broadening Horizons.

Playful has a curatorial role: we”re not just putting businessmen on stage and asking them to hawk products. It”s our job to offer up some unexpected things, new ideas, different perspectives and, you know, give people the chance to think about what they’re doing in a more playful way. We are asking people to talk about things that are interesting to us, relevant and hopefully pointing towards greater trends.

We can”t do that by having same people all the time. We need to bring people and ideas beyond what we can see in front of us, bring in new voices, new brains and take a punt on some potentially raw speakers. One of the most important ways of doing that is actually having diversity on stage.

We have, in the past, struggled to make the line-up more than 25% women. This is a hugely common issue, and something that the majority of conferences fall down badly on. Various reasons are often cited for this: not asking enough women, not trying hard enough, not making it as appealing, not being as accommodating, not knowing enough women, perceived tokenism etc.

Last year”s event felt lopsided. Two female speakers withdrew shortly beforehand (urgent travel, illness) and we only managed to fill those spaces with men. We realised we had a failing in our approach, so decided to do something about it. That was in the form of an open Google Doc calling for women to put themselves forward as a speaker. It wasn”t just for Playful, but to address the issue in general.

That quick solution has now turned into Articulate, a proper project with Caper, aiming at redressing this imbalance across all creative and technology conferences.

It”s really A Good Thing. Please support it and get involved.

Next Year

We will be doing it again. Same place, sometime in late October. Looking forward to finding out what it”s all about again.

See you then.

A Christmas Do.

Around this time of year, it all gets a bit hectic. Speed-buying presents, cramming as many parties in as possible, clients realising that Christmas holidays are around the corner and panicking accordingly. Somewhere along the line, you kind of forget to think, breathe a little.

For our Christmas do” this year we took in some proper North East Derbyshire institutions on a foggy, frosted, rain-whipped morning — proper clean your mind and lungs weather.

Grindleford, morning


We started the day off with breakfast at Grindleford Station Cafe. A legendarily grumpy outpost packed with more rules than , where there can be no changes to the Full English and mushrooms are verboten.

Café hours

After pints of tea, basking in the reassuring grease-miasma of fried slices and bacon, we headed out into National Trust land.

In various states of readiness — country-living Charles donned in all the wet-weather gear, James borrowed boots and I wore a coat that looks waterproof but is anything but — we took off into Padley Gorge.


Striding over frozen mulch, iced puddles and the occasional helpful stone staircase — all whilst being presented with the effortless Sublime of the Peak District — is a good way to freshen up your mind.


Stream, also

Hints of civilisation

The romanticism of the great outdoors dissipated a little when we reached the top in Fox House, fully exposed to the elements and windlashed with rain.

Open summit

We ended the walk at The Fox House, where we took on Christmas-style dinners, plenty of drink and the odd round of .